Runnin’, gunnin’

May 30, 2019 § 1 Comment

We had a pretty good flogging this morning, but then again, the Flog Ride is always pretty good, and by “good” I mean “bad.”

Three new riders showed up, one a super nice guy named Lloyd, and two younger fast guys who were there to set the course on fire. They had that “Outta my way, wankers,” look; great whites showing up at a guppy tank.

Google 1 also made the trek over from the West Side, and the fast guys either didn’t know who he was or pretended. Wes and Denis were also there, hunting for points, as was Google 2, who showed up just as we were rolling out. Frenchie, Billy, Fisherman, Scotty, me, K-Vine, Canyon Bob, and a couple of other riders rounded out the chopping block. Ivan the Terrible was absent, noticeably, despite promising to show up and celebrate his Tuesday Telo win by smashing us again into pieces.

Kind of like the #fake #trainingrace Telo, the Flog Ride is good because it gets a good mix of riders, old brokedown flailers and sleek young racehorses. Google 1 and Google 2 are the latter, and from the gun it was strictly a battle to see who could finish closest to second place after Google 1.

The fast young fellers had the lead quickly removed from their pencils because Google 2 is a woman, and she blew past them every lap as if they were on pogo sticks and she was on a Ducati. Somehow their come, see, conquer plan didn’t quite work out, although they tried very hard, breathed a lot, gnashed their teeth, and pushed as hard on their little pedals as they could. Like a lot of floggers, they decided they were late for something and had to get back, because they somehow missed the final haul up La Cuesta, with its 143% gradient.

Denis rode crazy fast, as did Wes, but no one was fast enough to stick with Google 1 when he stood on the pedals. It’s impressive to ride with someone(s) who can strip you down to nothing without even seeming to try. Of all the things I like about road cycling, I like that aspect best.

We had a bunch of peacocks on the course spectating, which was fun on the wet hairpin, and by the time we finished, we were finished.


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Good legs, bad legs

May 29, 2019 § 5 Comments

It is pretty well known that racing on slightly tired legs is a sign of fitness. I’m not sure about that, but what I know is that racing on slightly tired legs makes me conservative. Sit in as much as possible, focus on positioning, and wait for someone else to make the decisive move … then follow if you can.

The only times that racing turns out well for me is when I race cautiously, and I’m only cautious when I’m tired, because getting dropped sucks.

The only race I do anymore is our Telo #fake #trainingrace because it is hard and uncategorized. You’re racing against young strong people as well as gimpy geezers, not simply doing a trinket dance apportioned among other 55-59 y/o leaky prostates where evbo gets a ribbon.

My legs felt great so I went out hard for the first half hour. Peter the Hungarian jumped in several laps after the race had begun, and threw in attack after attack. Wes, who has graduated from shellee to hammer, chased, attacked, and animated. It was funny to watch him take a monster pull, flick his elbow, and then get mad when no one pulled through.

Welcome to the front, Wes! It’s lonely up there!

The man to mark was Chatty Cathy, and sure enough, with about 20 minutes left he followed another attack by Peter, accompanied by Wes and Ivan the Terrible. Ivan got the win, with Peter, Wes, and Chatty Cathy filling up the invisible podium. Everyone hesitated at the decisive moment except me, because it’s not hesitating when you are too shot to follow. The break rolled.

A lap later the Left Behinds realized that they’d been left behind, and Hair kicked it hard and took a couple of riders with him, including Ram-Ram, who’d won the #fakerace NPR that morning and was in the lead for the Telo Shoe Giveaway powered by Bike Palace. That left the dregs chasing the chasers: Heavy D., Smasher, Boozy P., Lapped Dude, Brandon, Turbo Tom, and I.

When you’re more than a minute down and have no hope, there are two options: Parade & preen, or rotate your guts out.

I cast a vote for parade & preen, but was overridden by the others. Smasher and Heavy D. pounded, along with Brandon, who took one pull so hard into the headwind that he pulled himself right off the back. Lapped Dude sat in and enjoyed the scenery, such as it was.

The last fifteen minutes were pretty miserable, proving that you can still have a great time on the bike even when you are completely rancid pack meat. In the sprunt for eleventy-ninth place, Smasher yanked a pedal as he came around me, causing his foot to kick the chain off and then, as his other foot unclipped, causing his left heel to kick open the rear quick release. I tensed as I heard the horrible sounds off to my right and waited for the inevitable smash and skid of breaking carbon and thudding body parts, but in an act of magical bike handling, he stayed upright as I was soundly beaten by Lapped Dude.

I’d go so far as to say it was the most satisfying of my many, many eleventy-tenth finishes. All of which have happened with … good legs.

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Noah’s flood

May 27, 2019 § 15 Comments

I have ridden in bad weather before, but never like yesterday.

The forecast called for solid rain beginning at 5:00 AM, coinciding perfectly with our planned roll-out time for the 170-mile odyssey from PV to Ventura and back. I’d prepared thoroughly. Thick undershirt. Arm warmers. Tights. Jersey. Long-sleeved jersey. Booties. Raincoat. Rubber dish gloves to keep my hands dry.

“There is no such thing as bad weather,” I repeated to myself bravely, “only poor clothing choices.”

Armed with exactly the right clothes I was ready, except that I wasn’t.

By the time I’d descended to PV Drive North I was soaked. The rainproof raincoat was neither, and ice water penetrated into my feet. It was 50 degrees, minus ten for wind chill and wet chill.

Baby Seal and Foxy were waiting for me, similarly drenched. We didn’t say anything, and miserably set off. The plan was to do a three-person rotation, each rider taking five-minute pulls. There were hardly any cars and zero cyclists. The rain pounded.

Soon, which is to say not soon enough, we reached Santa Monica and ran into Arkansas Traveler. He had on a light vest and a shower cap, shorts, and booties. The shower cap was a precious touch but he was still completely wet. He smiled sourly through the paste of his hangover and hopped on behind.

We passed Topanga Canyon on PCH, the road empty, and that’s when the rain really began to come down. All the SoCal riders tucked safely in bed or enjoying Zwift were #winning, and we were #losing. Each of us considered how lame it is to ride in the teeth of a bad weather forecast, when with a bit of common sense you could be warm and dry.

A couple of miles later we passed a guy named Greg. He hopped on. He was shivering from the cold and wet, and we worried whether we’d need to call his wife or EMS or Uber or all three.

After a little more than four hours of rotating we reached Ventura. Greg had stopped at an iHOP to call home for a lift, and Arkansas Traveler was no longer talking. I tried to revive everyone’s spirits by reciting Chaucer, but the only one I know is the Miller’s Tale, which is all about a giant flood. No one listened to anything except the spatter of rooster tails.

In Ventura we got some coffee and watched while the rain made everything that had happened up til then look like a mere drizzle. Sheet rain was slanting sideways, so hard they had canceled the Mountains to Coast Ventura Marathon. Runners stood huddled under eaves as the streets turned into rivers. The lonely chairs outside the coffee shop were barely visible through the raging rain.

Deluge

We got back on our bikes and began the long rotation home. On PCH huge mudslides were sending banks of earth cascading onto the shoulder, and one large boulder the size of a small house had blocked three of the four lanes by Las Posas.

“This is so stupid,” said Baby Seal. “We should have stayed home.”

Arkansas Traveler crashed in a stream of debris by Neptune’s Net, so we carried him to the porch of the restaurant and left him there. Visibility had plunged to about ten feet and in places the water came up to our hubs. People say that SoCal riders are weak and afraid of riding in bad weather, but this was the day that proved how sometimes it’s better to be cautious than foolhardy.

Baby Seal’s eTap short-circuited while he was stuck in the big chain ring, and Foxy bent her rear derailleur when a stone got caught in her chain and was jerked through the pulley wheel housing. We knew we would never defy the weather forecast again.

A long time later we reached Manhattan Beach, which was inundated. CotKU had flooded and sandbag crews were working feverishly to keep the south blocks of Manhattan Ave. from washing off into the ocean. We stopped at Becker’s Bakery for a sandwich and coffee, but the rain was coming down so hard, and the skies were so black, that we decided to continue on.

Big hands. Dry hands.

After forever we got back to PV Drive North. Baby Seal loaded his bike and Foxy’s into the car and I tried to ride up Silver Spur, but the fire department had closed it off due to a giant mudslide that had washed an entire house onto the street.

I went back to Baby Seal’s car and bummed a ride home.

“Never doing this again,” we agreed.

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Watch it!

May 22, 2019 § 10 Comments

It has been years since I last encumbered my bike, and more importantly my brain, with gewgaws that disgorged ersatz stats about when, how, where, and what transpired on my ride.

The summary eviction of Strava from its tenancy in my life, not to mention the death penalty levied on Cycling Peaks has restored the best thing about riding my bike, which is enjoying the ride, and then being done with it until the next time I throw a leg over.

Yet for all this purity, which includes riding without my Apple tracking device or a Garmin, I have continued to ride with a wristwatch. Why? Because there is only a single data point you need to know in cycling, and it’s called “time.”

Time answers the only two questions that any cyclist can ever possibly want answers to:

  1. How long have I been riding?
  2. How much longer do I have to ride?

Everything else, unless you get paid to pedal your bike, is flimmer-flammer.

The wristwatch, unlike all the other junk that gets peddled as “gotta-have,” is no accessory. It is, after the bike itself, the only thing between you and getting scolded badly for not returning in time to [celebrate your anniversary] [take the kids to soccer] [get your colonoscopy]. And far more importantly than mere timeliness, the wristwatch links you directly with the most awesome dude to ever pedal a bike.

Yep, that’s right. In every racing photo you will ever see of Eddy, he’s wearing a wristwatch. Here? Wristwatch. Here? Wristwatch. Here? Wristwatch.

Was it good enough for Eddy when he was winning Roubaix or the Tour or MSR? It’s good enough for you.

In addition to the square-edged utility of the wristwatch, it is an incomparable fashion statement. “I don’t need no fuggin’ computer or Stravver or Garminator. All I need to know is how many more seconds before I overhaul the rider ahead and ride her off my wheel.”

Of course this leads to the next issue, “Which wristwatch should I buy?”

Before I begin, let me say that the Apple Watch is not a watch any more than the iPhone is a telephone. They are tracking devices with a time function whose primary goal is to distract you from life, especially from cycling. A wristwatch is something that tells time and little or nothing else.

For years I’ve used a Timex Helen Keller model, so named because of the giant numbers on the face and the absence of any functionality besides a date. The Timex is cheap, sturdy, manly, painless to replace if you smash it, and about as workmanlike as it gets. After hundreds and hundreds of sweat-soaked rides, not to mention assault by filth and rain and the elements, the watch case began to corrode, which added a very cool look that you can’t purchase in the store.

The only two things I disliked about it were the fact that it had a leather band with a buckle, so it wasn’t flush against my wrist, and that it had a date on it. No cyclist buried in pain at Telo cares what day it is.

That’s when I came across this gem, made by Nixon. It cost me $100, about three times more than my Helen Keller. But it has a crazy nice flush metal watch band and the face is easier to read. Best of all, no date, no twelve time zones so that I can know the time in Bangalore, no alarm, no stopwatch, nothing but a big hand, a little hand, and a second hand. It is beautiful, thin, and you can’t call home on it.

Eddy would approve.

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Next-to-least-favorite-President, most favorite wristwatch.

Payback bread

May 21, 2019 § 17 Comments

When I was 18, I had just bought my Nishiki International and was pedaling over to the business school on the UT campus to lock it up. The business school had the best railings, and even though I was a philosophy major I swallowed my disgust and kryptonited my love to the secure steel bars of finance rather than trust it to the honesty of philosophers.

I stood up in time to see Robert Doty unlocking his bike, a maroon Fuji.

“Hi, Robert,” I said.

“Hey, Seth.”

We eyed each others’ bikes like junkies eyeing the respective tracks on their forearms. “You’re one, too,” we thought.

Bob was fifteen months older but two years ahead of me in school. We’d gone to Jane Long Junior High School but didn’t really know each other; I knew his name because every week on the Monday announcements over the PA, Mr. Thompson would praise the football team for losing valiantly again and then in a hurried aside would add, “Jane Long’s Debate Team of Robert Doty and Thomas Chatoney won first place again in the xxx debate tournament.”

Mr. Thompson never learned how to pronounce Tom’s name, which rhymed with “flattony,” preferring instead the more redneck version that rhymed with “baloney.”

In high school I got to know Bob as the senior star of our nationally ranked debate squad, but I was still a lowly sophomore debater. Two years’ difference in high school is a lot.

Standing in front of the business school that day, standard social hierarchy crumbled as it often does when bikes are concerned. “You ride?” Bob asked. If there was gonna be a hierarchy, it was gonna be leg-based.

“Yes, but I’m new at it.” The last part was superfluous; my Nishiki glittered, still never having even been ridden in the rain.

“Let’s go for a ride sometime,” Bob said, and we did what people used to do, that is, took out pens and wrote down each other’s phone numbers and then a few days later made an actual telephone call on a thing wired into the wall.

Bob became my first riding partner, and he beat me down mercilessly. He was a distance runner as well, and terribly fit, whereas I was merely terrible. Our most epic route went out FM 2222 up Feedlot Hill, a mile-long grade of about six percent that you had to climb on the way out to Lake Travis. We could scarcely imagine a more imposing mountain to ascend on a bike. Each time Bob would drop me there, hard.

One day I made up my mind to hang no matter what. I hung on for as long as I could until he lowered the hammer about halfway up and kicked me out the back. I was blown physically, but emotionally, too. I started crying and cursing as he vanished up the road. Shortly before I crested the top, where Bob was waiting, I stopped trembling and swore that one day I’d beat him.

I think back on that moment a lot. Who breaks down in tears on a bike at getting shelled?

The following year I roomed with Bob and his older brother, Harold the Bad, in the rundown, roach-filled Villa Orleans on 38th Street. Harold was a redneck, duck-hunting Ph.D. student, and he thought the whole cycling thing was silly. Why couldn’t we just go out and kill shit like normal people? I was a pretty solid pain in the ass roommate, but Bob had never had a younger brother and he cut me a lot of slack that, hardass that he was, he’d have never tolerated in someone else.

One of those places where he cut me nothing but slack was the kitchen. Bob was the house cook and he baked whole wheat bread a couple of times a week. I’d never had fresh bread before and when it came out of the oven I had to be restrained from eating all of it at a single sitting. “It’s not just for you,” Bob would remind me, half pissed at my gluttony but also half pleased at seeing someone relish his bread so completely. Through all these decades I’ve felt guilty at having eaten all that bread and never so much as lifted a finger to help out, cf. The Little Red Hen and the Grain of Wheat.

Yesterday Bob was in town for a conference and he had brought his bike. He was staying right around the corner at Terranea, so we met up there. I handed him a paper bag. “Might want to go put it in your room. It’s not going to do well on a long bike ride.”

“What is it?” he asked, taking the bag. “Ummm,” he said, feeling the outside, “still warm.”

He opened the sack and tore off a piece of the bread. “Man,” he said, “this is good!” Bob would know.

He went off to his room to stow the goods.

It was a very sunny day.

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Spoiling for a fight

May 19, 2019 § 14 Comments

Some people can’t get their day started right without a big ol’ confrontation.

I was sitting on my bike yesterday waiting for the Donut to start, idly and somewhat carelessly blocking the entrance to a coveted parking space in front of the Starbucks. On the one hand it was thoughtless of me to block it, but on the other hand it was pretty awesome because I was acting like a valet, saving the space for the next car.

As I chatted, the next car drove up and honked, the angry driver motioning me to get out of the way of his shiny, white, new Rage Rover. We laughed and moved, and as we did I imitated his hand-waving motion. I suppose it never occurred to him to roll down his window and say something like a human rather than blast on his horn.

Whatever.

For the next five minutes I kept yakking until the ride started to leave. That’s when I noticed that the driver had been standing off to my side the entire time, glaring at me. He was a short, pudgy dude with a scorched-earth hairline, and he was livid.

We made eye contact. “You think you’re so smart?” he snarled.

It took me a second to connect the raging dude with the Rage Rover. “What?” I said as riders slowly rolled by.

“You don’t know who you’re messing with,” he said.

“I’m not messing with anybody.” I clipped my other foot in, amazed that the guy had been standing there for at least five minutes. Why hadn’t he said something earlier if he were so eager to fight?

Then as various very large and muscled cyclists like Davy and Petrucci rolled by, I realized that he’d hopped out of his car eager to take on the skinny, aged smart-ass with twiggly arms only to find that he was in the middle of a group of about fifty well muscled mostly young people, any one of whom could have broken him in half with minimal effort, and all of whom seemed to know me.

Worse, no one paid any attention to him, further intensifying his pain at being small, slighted, and ignored. It sucks to stand there all puffed up, ready to take on your enemy, and have exactly no one notice. Foxy rolled by and took in the situation. “You touch him and I’ll kick your ass,” she said.

“You don’t know who you’re talking to,” he said again, begging us to ask.

“Whoever you are,” I said, “you still have to stand in line for coffee like everybody else.”

Unhappy Dude didn’t know what to say at the prospect of getting punched out by a woman or at being reminded of his ordinariness. He spun on his heel and stormed into the Starbucks.

“His dog is in for a rough day of it,” I said, and off we went.

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How the Telo was won

May 15, 2019 § 11 Comments

Yesterday was only my second Telo of 2019. I had been placed under a temporary ban and gag order due to the fact that I had been spotted not wearing my helmet in bed, in the shower, in the car, and occasionally on my bicycle.

Plus, I was keeping a low profile because The Bike Palace has placed a bounty on Telo’s head, offering an amazing pair of brand-new, $500 Specialized shoes to the rider who completes the most NPR-Telo doubles this year. That ends up being at least a hundred miles every Tuesday, and from the moment that Baby Seal announced the bounty, hordes of riders had been showing up to make sure they clocked their attendance. In other words, however hard Telo was, it had become way harder.

My Telo reticence had also been heightened by my one and only participation a few weeks ago, where the shock to my system was so great that I fell sick the following day and wound up in bed for six straight days.

However, my fan club, led by none other than Heavy D., had been bombarding my inbox with encouraging emails like this one:

Yo, Wanky! I know we have gotten crossways in the past but you are an awesome dude, a great bike racer, and a super addition to every ride. Please let’s let bygones be bygones. We need you at Telo!

As if that weren’t enough to melt any heart, even one as hard as mine, I started getting anonymous bouquets of flowers and cold deliveries from the Cheesecake Factory. Each delivery had a note like this:

Yo, Wanky! You are the heart and soul of the South Bay. Without you, we are nothing. I know that I have trashed the shit out of you for being a helmetless wanker, a complete jerk, an asshole deluxe, and the worst human being on earth since Satan, but on reflection I was wrong and you are a super guy. Please come back to Telo! I will work for you to get you the VEEEEE!

With love like that, how could I refuse?

So Baby Seal and Foxy and I suited up and pedaled over to Telo for another fun session of happiness and love. Imagine my surprise when Heavy D. was waiting for me with ANOTHER bouquet and cheesecake! “Dude,” he said, “I’m your one-man wrecking crew. Sit tight!”

With that, Heavy D. lit the matchbox with a flamethrower, set the throttle at 4,000 gigawatts, and proceeded to shred the entire field. I hung on as best I could, gritting my teeth in pain, sure that we were approaching my physical limit of 20 mph. As Heavy D. swung over, the attacks began in earnest. Gagging on my liver I couldn’t respond, but not to worry! Heavy D. sprinted up to each and every break, clawing them back to the field one after another as I sat safely in the back, refusing to do a lick of work, licking my wounds, and trying to find the little switch that turns on my electric downtube motor.

Suddenly a huge move came up the side, the decisive split, and I wasn’t there! But Heavy D. was! “C’mon, Wanky!” he said, grabbing my shorts by the hip and flinging me up into the break. With this heroic effort he gapped himself out, but with this sacrifice he guaranteed that I, too weak to do it on my own, had made it up to the escapees.

After a series of huge accelerations, Peter the Hungarian flicked me through, but none of my drugs had kicked in yet so I waited a bit. This was the key point in the race! The pack saw us leave and organized a bitter chase! But!!!!

Heavy D. clogged the lane, disrupted the rotation, and threw so many monkey wrenches into the chase that they were unable to get organized and bring us back. I heard his voice echo off the sides of the buildings, “Go Wanky! I GOT YOUR BACK!”

Peter swung over and Evens Stievenart attacked. At just that moment all the drugs and electric motors kicked in and somehow I managed to grab his wheel. For forty minutes he towed me around like a tin can hitched to the bumper of a newlywed station wagon.

Heavy D. patrolled the back, making sure no one bridged until, sure that our break would stick, he pulled out of the race to give someone else a chance to win the field sprint. I hung onto Evens’s wheel, barely, but with the help of a small bungee cord it worked out.

As I crossed the line for a glorious almost-Telo victory, who should be standing there to cheer me loudest but Heavy D.? I got off my bike totally winded as he hugged me, slapped my back, covered me in kisses, gave me a $25 gift card to the Cheesecake Factory, and offered to carry me home on his back.

For the podium picture he spent fifteen minutes getting the photo angle away from my weak chin and bad tooth, and then immediately posted everything on twelve social media platforms along with endorsements of Donald Trump, #maketelogreatagain, #buildthewall, and #impeachcongress. I am still going through all the kudos, likes, attaboys, and attagirls resulting from his outpouring of praise at my accomplishment.

But truth be known: I owe it all to him!

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Cooper rounding out the podium in 4th place. Paws NOT raised!